Sunday, April 6, 2014
Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Published March 2013 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this fair review
Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Korobi Roy is the scion of a distinguished Kolkata family and has enjoyed a privileged, sheltered childhood with her adoring grandparents. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she found hidden in her mother's book of poetry. Korobi dreams of one day finding a love as powerful as her parents’, and it seems her wish has come true when she meets the charming Rajat, the only son of a high-profile business family.
But shortly after their engagement, a heart attack kills Korobi’s grandfather, revealing serious financial problems and a devastating secret about Korobi's past. Shattered by this discovery and by her grandparents’ betrayal, Korobi undertakes a courageous search across post-9/11 America to find her true identity. Her dramatic, often startling journey will, ultimately, thrust her into the most difficult decision of her life.
In Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing, she took a cast of characters and built a story for each that was developed independently and told one by one. In Oleander Girl, Divakaruni has also taken a cast of characters and built a plot line for each but here they are all interwoven into a cohesive story.
You know by now how much I love books set in India and in that respect this book definitely satisfies. Divakaruni explores class, caste, and religion while comparing modern India to its rich history and traditions. Against this backdrop, Korobi represents a prize for Rajat's family; as nouveau riche, they are in need of the power of tradition the Roy family holds. Korobi's journey to America is only one of the problems they will face trying to hold onto their wealth and power.
Divakaruni attempts to do a lot in Oleander Girl and, unfortunately, it didn't entirely succeed for me. She might have been better served to split up her story lines; it would have allowed her to better develop Korobi's journey in search of her father. I was far more interested in learning what would happen in Kolkata to Rajat, his family, and the people around them. Divakaruni touches only so deeply into the darker aspects of the story and I would have liked to see that developed further. Still, I enjoyed the book and raced through it.